Are there 10 living Virginians who might be looked upon someday as the equals of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison?

John Lenkey III, a Richmond business executive, got to wondering about that after hearing a speech to the West Richmond Rotary Club by Virginius Dabney, a famed historian and veteran newspaper editor.

As a result, the Eminent Living Virginians campaign began.

Announced Wednesday, the campaign will give all Virginians the right to vote--for $1 per ballot--for people they think may merit the honor.

"We figured this was a good way to help a not-yet-chosen charity and have a good time getting the money together," Lenkey said. Members of the sponsoring club hope the state's 3,858 Rotarians will distribute ballots.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Lenkey insisted that it isn't far-fetched to think there are high-caliber contemporary Virginians whose names will go down in history. "After all, 200 years increases the appreciation for people" such as Jefferson, who was widely vilified in his lifetime, he said.

To assure geographic diversity, no more than two persons can be elected from any of the state's 10 federally defined metropolitan areas (including the Virginia suburbs of Washington), and no more than one from any single county outside those areas.

Sitting politicians elected by state-wide vote, such as the governor or either U.S. senator, would be ineligible. And ballots cast for people found to have limited qualifications such as, for example, a college student, will be thrown out, Lenkey said.

Headquarters of the campaign is being maintained by the West Richmond Rotary Club at P.O. Box 8227, Richmond, Va. 23226.